After a light January, the UFC has stormed into February with an event every Saturday evening. This weekend marks the third in a string of eight consecutive fight cards when the promotion hosts UFC Fight Night: Walker v. Hill. Sitting atop the marquee is a light heavyweight bout between two flashy finishers looking to make their mark as contenders.
Johnny Walker stormed onto the UFC scene with three straight first-round finishes, and he was thought by many to be a fighter who could challenge for the belt at 205 pounds. He was derailed by Corey Anderson and has struggled to recapture the magic he had when starting his UFC tenure, falling to 1-3 over his last four fights. His opponent, Jamahal Hill, has lost just once since signing with the UFC. His loss to Paul Craig is his only setback inside the promotion, as well as the only blemish on his entire professional record. This weekend, the two men square off with a spot firmly inside the division’s top ten likely on the line.
In the co-main event is a catchweight showdown between Kyle Daukaus and Jamie Pickett. Daukaus is making the walk to the cage for the fourth time and despite a lackluster 1-2-1 record has had moments that show his potential to be a contender at middleweight. Pickett stepped in on short notice after Julian Marquez was forced to withdraw from the contest. After starting 0-2 with the UFC, Jamie Pickett has rattled off two consecutive wins and will look to continue that momentum in a high profile spot this weekend.
Elsewhere on the main card is a lightweight bout that pits the fighter with the most UFC appearances, Jim Miller, against promotional newcomer Nikolas Motta. This marks the second consecutive outing for Miller where he is welcoming a newcomer to the cage, as he nears 40 bouts inside the organization.
UFC Fight Night Walker vs. Hill will be held inside the UFC Apex in front of a limited audience. It is a matinee affair of sorts with the prelims beginning at 4 p.m. ET followed by the main card at 7 p.m. ET. The event can be seen in its entirety streaming on ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Johnny Walker has struggled recently, dropping three of his last four fights; can he regain his footing and emerge victorious over a surging Jamahal Hill?
Sumian: Walker absolutely has the ability to rebound and put a damper on the hype of Hill. Both of these light heavyweights are powerful, tall and athletic competitors capable of shutting the lights off of anyone that tries to stand and bang with them. Out of the two, Walker has definitely faced the stiffer competition, but he has also competed in professional MMA four years longer. The biggest difference maker in this fight will be the fighter who is able to walk into the Octagon and maintain his confidence and composure.
All of Walker’s losses have been to top-20 ranked light heavyweights. While Walker’s confidence is certainly a strength, it is also a weakness when shaken. His shocking knockout loss to Corey Anderson is what shattered Walker’s undeniable swagger, and he has yet to reclaim his “Eye of the Tiger”. When Walker is on mentally, there are few light heavyweights who can give him trouble, even with exploiting his weaknesses in grappling. If Walker comes to this fight focused, his performance will be reminiscent of his first four fights in the UFC.
Hill is in the process of establishing himself as a prospective light heavyweight contender. “Sweet Dreams” is still relatively green in his MMA career, but he has proven he is more than capable of defeating a majority of 205-pound fighters inside the UFC. A loss to Paul Craig at UFC 263 was not necessarily a bad thing for the Chicago native, who has openly talked about the loss and how he plans to recover from it.
Hill will have a long and exciting career as a light heavyweight in the UFC, but Saturday night will belong to Walker. He will bait Hill into enticing exchanges and eventually land a powerful counter knee or hook that leads to an eventual finish. Walker is still only 29 years old and has a long way to go before ever being considered a top-five light heavyweight.
Petela: Walker hasn’t looked like the same fighter recently. Gone is the hard-charging prospect who throws caution to the wind and comes out on top more often than not. He looked reserved in his last fight against Thiago Santos – a dangerous opponent surely – but the fire in his eyes seemed to be replaced by seeds of doubt, and that won’t suit him well in this matchup. He is taking on Hill at precisely the wrong time if he wants to get his momentum back.
Hill has recently turned into a knockout threat, almost becoming the new Johnny Walker. However, he built his career on the backs of decision victories, so if this turns into a point fighting affair, he has what it takes to defeat Walker. This could be a wild slugfest for the ages, in which case it is a toss up on who wins, but, likely, it will be a calculated effort by both men trying to remain out of danger while inflicting just enough damage. That favors Hill, and he will come out on top at the end of five rounds.
Walker’s move to SBG Ireland will prove to be a mistake in the long run. While the camp has produced the biggest star in the sport’s history in Conor McGregor, John Kavanaugh and company aren’t the right fit to remold Walker into a top contender. This will be another setback for Walker, and he might be forced to make another change in camps to regain the momentum he had just a few short years ago.
Kyle Daukaus was slated to take on Julian Marquez but will instead take on short notice replacement Jamie Pickett; does the Philadelphia native pick up his second UFC win?
Petela: Kyle Daukaus needs a win this weekend to kickstart his UFC tenure. His two best performances in the promotion so far have come in his debut, which he lost, and the brief shining moment in his fight with Kevin Holland that ultimately resulted in a no-contest. He picked up a win over Dustin Stoltzfus between those two fights, as well as a loss to Phil Hawes, but has never been able to string impressive showings together. He will buck that trend and have a standout fight in the co-main event slot against Jamie Pickett.
Daukaus has picked up eight of his ten wins by submission, and that will be his path to victory this weekend. His opponent, Pickett, has been submitted twice in his career before joining the UFC. Of the two men, the power advantage will lie with Pickett, so expect Daukaus to close the distance and secure a takedown from the clinch early on in the fight. The story will be the same in the second round, but, eventually, in an attempt to get back to his feet, Pickett will expose his neck and become the ninth person to fall by submission to the Tacony product.
Sumian: On paper, this is truly a striker-versus-grappler match that will likely end in the exact way my colleague has described. However, the more important question is why this fight is the co-main event. Neither combatant is deserving of a co-main-event slot even on an average fight card. Instead, this slot should have belonged to Abdul Razak Alhassan and Joaquin Buckley. Expect these two to steal the night and completely outshine a questionable co-main event.
Nikolas Motta and Chad Anheliger — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: Out of the two, the shine should be on Motta. He will make his UFC debut against UFC great Jim Miller and combat the veteran’s impeccable grappling in an effort to strike his way to victory. Overall, both competitors need to make it to their sophomore UFC appearances before anyone gets excited.
Petela: Chad Anheliger is unlikely to make any real noise inside the UFC. He is a 35-year-old veteran of the regional scene who shined on Dana White’s Contender Series, but don’t expect him to rattle off an impressive stretch of wins now that he is fully inside the promotion. Motta is certainly the more exciting of the two newcomers, picking up two wins in 2019 under the Cage Fury Fighting Championships banner. Despite stumbling out of the gate, the 29-year-old Brazilian has a bright future.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Gloria de Paula. This is her third official fight inside the UFC after picking up a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series. She is 0-2 so far, and in her last fight, she got finished by TKO after ending up on the wrong side of a head kick by Cheyanne Vlismas. She is going up against another “Warrior Princess” this weekend in Diana Belbita, who snapped a two-fight skid by defeating Hannah Goldy last July. A loss to Belbita this weekend will likely see de Paula be given her walking papers by the UFC and force her to rebuild outside the organization.
Sumian: Alan Baudot could find himself in a difficult situation if he suffers a loss to Parker Porter. He has not recorded a victory since 2019, nor has he earned a victory in the UFC. Baudot may be on the chopping block if he does not show something worthy of a UFC roster spot.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Jouaquin Buckely versus Abdul Razak Alhassan is going to steal the show on this card. In no shape or form is this fight technically a sleeper, but it deserves to be brought up as often as possible. This middleweight striker clash is matchmaking at its finest and will provide fans one of the most entertaining bouts of 2022.
Petela: Coming on the heels of UFC 271, this entire fight card is flying under the radar so there are a plethora of fights to choose from. The one that stands out the most to me is Gabriel Benitez vs. David Onama. Benitez has been in the UFC for almost eight years and has had stretches of success but has faltered recently. Onama, on the other hand, is making his second UFC appearance after fighting up a weight class on very short notice and giving Mason Jones all he could handle. This fight should be exciting from start to finish and will show that the winner is able to compete among the best of the best.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Jim Miller. He will make the walk for a record-extending 39th time this weekend, and for the second time in a row, he welcomes a newcomer to the UFC. Just as he did last time out against Erick Gonzalez, Miller will stop Nikolas Motta in emphatic fashion and pick up yet another post-fight bonus. The days of Miller charging towards title contention are long gone, yet he has continued to prove that he is still a tough test for any up-and-coming fighters looking to add a veteran name to their resume.
Sumian: Johnny Walker. A calculated and well-timed counter will lead to an impressive finish for the Brazilian. Walker will need to gradually continue his climb in the UFC similar to Sean O’Malley.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: Jim Miller’s professional MMA career. It is incredible how far Miller has come and how he remains an active and high-level competitor despite the long, yet prosperous career. The New Jersey native’s time in the UFC is coming to a close, so enjoy him while it lasts.
Petela: Cask-strength Scotch. This card should be exciting from start to finish, but given its placement in the year, directly after a massive pay-per-view, it is sneaking up on many fans. So enjoy this surprisingly strong fight card with a glass of cask-strength Scotch, perhaps a Glenlivet Nadurra, and don’t be surprised when they both hit harder than you anticipated.
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
LHW: Johnny Walker vs. Jamahal Hill
MW: Jamie Pickett vs. Kyle Daukaus
HW: Parker Porter vs. Alan Baudot
LW: Jim Miller vs. Nikolas Motta
MW: Joaquin Buckley vs. Abdul Razak Alhassan
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
FW: Jonathan Pearce vs. Christian Rodriguez
BW: Mario Bautista vs. Jay Perrin
FW: Gabriel Benitez vs. David Onama
Women’s BW: Jessica Rose-Clark vs. Stephanie Egger
FW: Chas Skelly vs. Mark Striegl
StrawW: Diana Belbita vs. Gloria De Paula
BW: Chad Anheliger vs. Jesse Strader
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